Saturday, November 27, 2010

Polo Saturday on the Hunt

How do you get more people out hunting? Theresa King, who recently earned her colors with the Aiken Hounds, thought one good way might be to invite some polo players to come along. As a polo player who started hunting about four years ago, Theresa knew that people who love galloping on the polo field might like to keep on galloping through the woods when the polo season was over. After all, she was bitten by the hunt bug after her first taste of riding with the drag.

“I just love it,” she says. “I love the speed of it, I love jumping and I love being in the woods. I thought that there are so many polo players who turn their horses out in the winter without realizing that there are other options that they might really enjoy. I thought we should make an easy way for polo players to try hunting to see if they liked it, and that’s where the idea of Polo Saturday came from.”

Linda McLean, who is the Master of Foxhounds at Aiken, and Katherine Gunter, who is the huntsman, agreed to give it a try. Invitations went out to Aiken’s polo players, urging them not to pull their horses’ shoes just yet, but to leave them on for a special hunt. The event was originally scheduled for Tuesday, November 16, a few days after the official end of the polo season. Rain disrupted the plan, and so Polo Tuesday became Polo Saturday, a change that may have made it even more attractive. The hunt was open to all polo players at no charge. They did not have to wear hunt attire, but could come in their boots, whites and polo helmets. 

No one was quite sure how big the turnout would be beforehand. But on the day of the hunt, polo players took full advantage of the opportunity. In fact, the field was among the biggest of the year with almost 70 riders. Many of the players came dressed for a match, while others wore a combination of hunt and polo attire. Of course, the regular members of the field were riding too, but they may have been outnumbered by those from the polo side of the aisle. Barb Uskup from 302 Polo provided the stirrup cup at Memorial Gate.

In Aiken, of course, polo and hunting often do go together. Some current hunt riders have played a bit of polo, while some polo players also do quite a lot of hunting. In addition to Theresa King, other polo players often seen on the hunt field include Jack Whittemore, Christine Cato, Kim Rodriguez and Todd Martineau. David Smith, who is the Master of Whiskey Road Foxhounds, is also a long-time and dedicated polo player. 

The tradition of polo players joining the hunt goes back to the days of the Winter Colony when such families as the Hitchcocks, the Bostwicks and the Knoxes all participated in both sports. Whether many more of today’s polo players will soon be out shopping for black jackets and velvet caps remains to be seen. However, several poloists who made their first forays into the Woods on Saturday were back on a horse at Opening Meet. This time, they looked pretty much like all the other foxhunters in their traditional clothing. Of course, you could pick them out pretty easily – all their horses had roached manes. 

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